Young catcher could be key to Vazquez trade
December, 3, 2008
Javier Vazquez comes to Atlanta for one good prospect, a wild-card arm, and some filler. "Big Game Javy" is a durable mid-rotation starter, good for 200 innings a year, still young at 31, and maddening in his inability to meet expectations based on his peripheral stats. He sits 90-93 mph, bumping 94, without much movement. He tends to miss in the upper-middle part of the zone two or three times a game, and because he defaults to his fastball when he's behind in the count, it results in some very hard-hit balls. He works with three off-speed pitches -- slider, curve and changeup -- none plus, both breaking balls around average, the change slightly below, and has better control than command; his 59 unintentional walks this year actually his made up his highest total since his rookie year in 1998. Vazquez actually ranks ninth among active starters in strikeouts, 14th in innings pitched, 13th in fewest walks per nine innings and 11th in home runs allowed, behind eight pitchers aged 40 and up. He holds the patent on the Really Bad Pitch and is currently litigating for trademark rights to the term "One Bad Inning," all of which seems small beans now that his former manager, Ozzie Guillen, has tagged Vazquez as unable to pitch in big games. In the six-player trade, Atlanta also gets Boone Logan, a low-slot lefty specialist who almost shot-puts the ball to the plate. He tops out at 91 mph and his slider doesn't have great tilt, so he's limited to platoon duty and is going to be prone to the long ball. But he could have a good run as a one-out lefty, and he's cheap for 2009 and under control for three years after that. Logan is interesting if for no other reason than the fact that he has thrown only 5 1/3 innings between short-season ball and Triple-A. The package going back to the White Sox relies heavily on one prospect, breakout slugger Tyler Flowers, to make it a solid return. Brent Lillibridge is a nice utility player who can handle playing shortstop, second or center field but who is little more than a slap-hitter without good secondary skills, limiting his upside to a bench role. Third baseman Jon Gilmore is a moderate-tools prospect with very limited feel, below-average speed, and a limited power ceiling; he reminds me of Ryan Sweeney, another player from Iowa who was hyped as an amateur beyond what his actual tools merited. The wild card for Chicago is left-hander Santos Rodriguez, a Gulf Coast League repeater with an outstanding arm. He's a long, lanky kid whose fastball sits 95-96 mph, and he shows some feel for a breaking ball. The delivery isn't pretty, and his command is still well below average, so he probably projects as a reliever. But his upside, even in the pen, is substantial, although his probability of reaching it right now given his inexperience and delivery is not that high. Flowers, on the other hand, is going to produce offensively at the big-league level, possibly as soon as 2010. It's not quite the way you'd draw it up -- he bars his front arm slightly with his hands all the way back and takes an all-out swing -- but he has a very good eye and raw power, particularly to left and left-center. (His 17 home runs may not look impressive, but Myrtle Beach -- high Class A -- is a horrible place to hit.) He may not hit for a high average -- I'd like to see him prove he can catch up to better fastballs, as his bat speed isn't great on top of where he starts his hands -- but he'll post a high OBP and should be a 25-plus home run guy when he's established in the majors, perhaps more in a homer-friendly park like Chicago's. Flowers' drawback is behind the plate, where he's slow and blocky and has a fringe-average arm; he'll never be a defensive asset, but the White Sox have lived with A.J. Pierzynski back there for years and won a World Series with him, so they don't seem likely to overvalue defense at catcher. If Flowers reaches or comes near his ceiling, he alone is a good return on two years of Vazquez at a slightly below-market $11 million per year. But if Flowers can't catch or has too much trouble making contact at higher levels, the rest of the package isn't likely to make up for it.